Forty-five years ago the Beatles invaded America, and a generation of suspicious parents found themselves wondering “Why here?”
Residents of south St. Anthony Park have been asking themselves the same question lately in response to an invasion by a different kind of beetle. This time the intruders are from Wisconsin rather than England, and instead of disturbing the peace with amplified instruments, these visitors destroy trees.
St. Anthony Park has the dubious distinction of hosting the first confirmed infestation of emerald ash borers in Minnesota. The EAB, which is native to eastern Asia, has proven to be a devastating pest in other states, especially Michigan, where it was first discovered seven years ago and has destroyed millions of ash trees.
Scientifically known as Agrilus planipennis, the EAB was given its common name by entomologists because of its coloration and behavior. The insect lays its eggs on the bark of ash trees, and the larva burrow into the bark and begin eating the wood, a process that disturbs the movement of water and nutrients from the tree’s roots to the leaves. Untreated trees die within three to five years after being infested.
The EAB was discovered on Long Avenue in south St. Anthony Park on May 14 by a tree service company. Initially, three trees were confirmed as infested. Since then, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has been inspecting ash trees within a two-mile radius of the original infestation.
As of May 28, the MDA had found 26 trees with a confirmed EAB infestation and another 98 suspect trees in the target area, according to Geir Friisoe, director of MDA’s Plant Protection Division.
Minnesota is estimated to have 937 million white, green and black ash trees. Because the EAB poses a serious threat to the state’s forests, Sen. Ellen Anderson, who represents St. Anthony Park, called a public meeting on May 20 to discuss the issue. Officials from MDA, the Department of Natural Resources and the city of St. Paul were on hand to dispense information and answer questions.
At the meeting, Friisoe said the MDA has been planning for an EAB invasion ever since the beetle was discovered in Michigan. “We knew it was coming,” he said. “We just didn’t know when.”
Mark Abrahamson, program coordinator for MDA’s ash borer program, said the most challeng-ng thing about dealing with the pest is its near invisibility.
The adult beetles are only half an inch long. The larva, which do the real damage, can lurk unseen beneath the bark’s surface for a year or more before a tree shows any sign of damage. Abrahamson said the EAB could have been in Minnesota for as long as five years even though it was only detected recently.
Rich Lallier, operations manager for St. Paul’s Division of Parks and Recreation, said the EAB has not yet been detected in other parts of the city. He said his department has identified 285 ash trees on city property in an area bounded by Interstate 94 on the south, the BNSF railroad tracks on the north, Highway 280 on the west and Transfer Road on the east.
The location of an infected ash tree dictates who pays for its treatment or removal. Boulevard trees, for example, would be taken care of by the city.
Lallier said the city will make treatment and removal decisions on a case-by-case basis. Homeowners who want to treat boulevard trees themselves would need a permit, he said, and so far the city is holding off on granting permits.
Treating an infected tree is an expensive proposition, according to Bob Fitch, executive director of the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association. He said treatment costs from $50 to $200 a year per tree and would need to be continued for the life of the tree.
Fitch urged property owners with ash trees to consult an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture before making a decision about treating an infected tree. He said treatment should be performed by a licensed commercial pesticide applicator.
“Don’t trust door-to-door salesmen,” Fitch said. “The people who are qualified to deal with this kind of problem are not going to be knocking on people’s doors.” He said concerned property owners can consult his organization’s Web site (www.mnla.biz) for a list of certified arborists.
In response to the EAB threat, MDA has imposed a quarantine on firewood, ash trees and ash tree products in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. MDA’s Friisoe said that although adult beetles, which fly, can infect new trees, the main cause of spreading an infestation is by transporting firewood and other products.
Property owners who have trees they are concerned about have several options (see sidebar). The most important thing, MDA officials stressed, is not to take action without consulting an expert.
Mark Olson and Norma Smith Olson, who live in south St. Anthony Park, have two young ash trees on their boulevard and two more mature ash trees in their yard. Although Olson said the trees have shown some signs of stress, they are waiting to hear more from city and state officials before determining next steps.
Olson said if their trees turn out to be infested but are treatable, they would be inclined to treat them in order to preserve the shade. “Because they help keep the house cool in the summer, the trees have an economic, as well as aesthetic, value,” he said.
Robert Delutri lives on Long Avenue, at the epicenter of the EAB infestation. His property has 12 mature ash trees.
“They’re in varying stages of decline,” he said. “A few are almost dead; others show some signs of disease. We’ll probably have to get all of them taken out eventually.”
Delutri said he worries about the expense of removing a dozen trees.
“Maybe those of us in the area can get some kind of group rate,” he said. “I’m hoping some company that could use the wood might cut us a deal.”
Friisoe said that if the EAB infestation appears to be confined to south St. Anthony Park, clear-cutting all ash trees in the area is a possibility, but he said that approach hasn’t been very successful in other states.
Sen. Anderson said that at the end of the recent session, the Minnesota Legislature approved an emergency allocation of $2 million to address the EAB threat.
That money will not be available until Gov. Pawlenty signs the budget, and it would need to survive the “unallot-ment” process he has said the entire budge will be subject to. Anderson urged people to contact the governor’s office (296-3391) and lobby for inclusion of that emergency funding.
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